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Can't See the Forest for the...Kids?

April 11, 2011

BEND, Ore. - The next generation of Oregon forests will someday be tended by the next generation of Oregon kids. More Oregon youngsters will gain a new appreciation for the great outdoors, with some help from the U.S. Forest Service. Oregon groups received two of only nine grants in the nation awarded this month, to promote learning about nature and stewardship.

For one grant, managers of the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon are working with more than a dozen community partners - schools, businesses and nonprofit groups - and their plan includes 20 outdoor classroom settings, right in the forest.

Larry Baron is director of conservation education with Discover Your Northwest, one of the partner organizations.

"We are designating spots in the Deschutes National Forest and saying, 'That's an outdoor classroom; that's an outdoor classroom.' And even outside of the Deschutes, in the Bend community, we're going to launch a program called 'Naturehoods,' where we identify green spaces within the city where we can engage youth in the same activities as we can in our forests."

Baron says they're calling the overall effort the Deschutes Children's Forest. He says they've spent time examining the barriers that keep kids from enjoying the outdoors, and it's often the case that nonprofit programs or school districts don't have the money for equipment or field trips. So, he says, the community partners find ways to provide it.

"The most important thing is that kids are engaged in the outdoors. And it doesn't have to be on the public lands. I mean, the ultimate goal is, we'd love to get them out to our classrooms that we have in the forest, but if they can't get to one of these 20 sites, then we will come to them."

The other Oregon grant recipient is the Southern Oregon Discovery Adventure and Stewardship Program in Medford. Together, the two programs received almost $84,000.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR